The Other I

May 2, 2008

My revisit to Maryknoll

Filed under: Life as a Nun,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 7:37 pm

I returned yesterday to England after my return to a Maryknoll reunion at the motherhouse of the missionery order of nuns I joined 50 years ago and left 9 years later.  It wasn’t the first time I’d been back, but it was the first time I hadn’t just slipped in quietly to visit a friend for a few hours.  This was different.  This was meals in the convent refrectory – or perhaps it is now called a dining room.  We stayed in rooms very like those we inhabited as nuns, and there were no cloistered areas from which we were quietly excluded.  Differences between those of us who were no longer Maryknoll sisters but there only for the weekend and those still official members of the community were often indiscernible.

The weekend was a complex experience which I haven’t fully processed yet.  So I will probably write more than one post as I think it through.  The most outstanding, unmissable thing that has survived and even blossomed for me at the Maryknoll I saw this weekend is a generosity of spirit that permeates everything.  The overwhelming spirit is one of tolerance, a non-judgemental acceptance of life styles, with a great compassion and interest people of every persuasion and belief.  Everyone there had, at one time or other, decided to dedicate their lives as Maryknoll sisters to work and live with the poor in foreign countries.  Most of us hadn’t stayed the exact course, but in the face of a huge diversity, hardly anyone seems to have lost the essence of that first impulse that was just a little out of the ordinary, always just a little close to the edge.   The variety of religious belief or lack there of and the tolerance of sexual orientation and relationships that would have been considered at least unconventional four decades ago were -liberating.   For everyone, there was that concern for people, for earth, for giving something back for what we’d been given, to try to make some difference for the better.

For myself,  I was amazed by the enthusiasm and warmth with which I was both received and remembered.  So many women wanted to share so much with me, I was taken aback.  My first temptation was to wonder if I was actually quite such an extraordinary presence.  On second thought, I brought myself down to a more sober reality, but it was, nonetheless, an experience I ponder with some considerable pleasure, and possibly a modicum of confused humility. 

My presentation on the history of all of time and the subsequent discussion on science and religion were a delight to give.  There was the kind of interest and questions that most teachers would kill for.  One friend kept asking me if I was nervous about the upcoming presentation and afternoon discussion, and did not seem to believe me when I said I wasn’t.  But I was unprepared for my response to giving the homily during our closing liturgy.  Teaching is one thing;  preaching is quite another, and I was hugely uncomfortable. 

It isn’t that it wasn’t a good homily or that I offended anyone.  But I realized as I stood there in front of what had turned from a group of learners into a congregation of worshippers that exorting is profoundly different from teaching.  I am willing – perhaps some would say even exasperatingly eager – to express my opinion on any subject whatsoever about which I may or may not be informed.  But giving spiritual direction fills me with apprehension.  I will never again agree to giving a homily.

Which may explain why, as I left Maryknoll Sunday morning, I knew I did not belong there. 

About which more on another day.

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